SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church has added women to three major committees, a historic development that gives women significant, permanent, official voices in church leadership.
Church leaders changed the name of the faith's Priesthood Executive Council to the Priesthood and Family Executive Council and invited the church's Relief Society General President, Sister Linda K. Burton, to sit on the council.
The General Young Women's President, Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, will join the Missionary Executive Council.
The General Primary President, Sister Rosemary Wixom, will be on the Temple and Family History Executive Council.
Women in the faith's General Relief Society, Young Women and Primary presidencies regularly have contributed to and advised these councils for decades when invited to do so for particular issues. They were not permanent members. This is the first time women will have official positions on these major committees, and former women leaders in the church called the moves a historic step forward.
Sister Oscarson broke the news about the council assignments in a Facebook post Tuesday evening.
"I still vividly remember President Thomas S. Monson announcing the lowered missionary age for young women. Today I witnessed another significant moment — I received an invitation to participate as a member of the Missionary Executive Council. I am honored. This is one of three key councils of the Church, each led by members of the Twelve .
"What a great time to be a woman in the Church where our voices are needed and valued more than ever. I am grateful for the opportunity to add my perspective and experience to this council as we work together to spread the message of the restored Gospel."
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles responded on Facebook.
"I was very pleased to read Sister Bonnie Oscarson’s Facebook post about the new assignments of our women officers to the three general priesthood councils. We need their wisdom and participation! It is sensible that their assignments line up with their current responsibilities.
"Sister Oscarson will serve on the Missionary Executive Council at a time when the church has an unprecedented number of missionaries, a great number of whom are young women."
As Elder Oaks noted, the permanent role of the General Young Women's president on the Missionary Executive Council comes nearly three years after the beginning of a massive surge in the number of young LDS women serving church missions. The increase was sparked in October 2012, when LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced the lowering of the missionary age for sisters from 21 to 19.
Tuesday's significant changes in church structure are a continuation of movement and progress made on issues of concern to women in the church. For many years, LDS leaders have held discussions with women inside and outside of church leadership.
A church spokeswoman said last year that the age change and additional decisions made to improve the visibility and impact of women leaders are examples of changes facilitated by the input sought by church leaders from LDS women around the world.
Other changes for women in the church in the past three years include new leadership roles for sister missionaries, the inclusion of more women in congregation leadership meetings known as ward councils and prayers by women at semiannual general conference meetings.
Former women leaders said Tuesday night that members of the church's leading councils, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, regularly invited their input in meetings of the three councils affected Tuesday. The women offered advice and made presentations, but they weren’t standing members.
Women have been official members of other church committees. The three women in the Relief Society general presidency long have served as members of both the General Welfare Committee and the Executive Welfare Committee.
"It is an exciting day for the whole church to have the voice of women heard on those committees because they do represent half the church," said Margaret Nadauld, who served as the Young Women's general president from 1997-2002. "It is going to be a thrilling thing to have their voices heard."
Nadauld said she occasionally participated on these committees, but not as a full-time member.
"The auxiliary leaders have been serving on important committees for several years, and the brethren have been interested to hear their voices. I served as a permanent member of the Board of Trustees for the Church Educational System. But this is the first that these leaders have been asked to serve as permanent members of these important priesthood councils, even though we were quite often invited to participate in the Priesthood Executive Council meetings. For a period we were invited to those meetings once a month. It was a thrill and a pleasure to have our voices heard and be asked for our opinions."
Sister Mary N. Cook, who served a counselor in the Young Women general presidency from 2008-13, said she was thrilled because women have a unique perspective and information, insight and inspiration "that will be unique and helpful to the brethren in those sacred councils."
In her experience, women's auxiliary presidents often were invited to attend council meetings, and counselors were invited occasionally to participate on specific issues and topics.
"We met regularly with our priesthood advisers, who were members of the Quorum of the Twelve," she said. "We met with the First Presidency. They gave us a vision of what they wanted accomplished.
"But with this change I sense something larger. I sense that this expanded role for the auxiliary presidencies will affect not just the women of the church, but that this will be a blessing to families, that there is going to be much more integration, that this will be supportive of the priesthood role for men in their callings because of the increased perspective of all that is entailed in these committees."
Cook also noted that the news could affect local priesthood councils in LDS congregations.
"I think this is a powerful way to instruct local leaders about how to more effectively integrate the perspective of women to strengthen their local wards and stakes."
"This is yet another important step forward in the restoration of the gospel," said Sheri Dew, who served as a counselor in the Relief Society general presidency from 1997 to 2002. "During the years I served in the Relief Society General Presidency, our presidency was regularly invited to participate in discussions and make presentations regarding issues affecting women, families and children. But to now have the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary general presidents assigned as standing members of these three major committees signals how invaluable women are at all levels of church government on matters affecting all members."
Dew is now the CEO of Deseret Book and executive vice president of Deseret Management Corporation, which owns the Deseret News.
Elder Oaks made additional comments in his Facebook post.
"I was also very pleased to learn that the First Presidency has approved renaming the Priesthood Executive Council to the 'Priesthood and Family Executive Council.' We know Sister Burton will give valuable insight in this new position as she represents women of the Church around the world."
Sister Burton also commented on Facebook later Tuesday night.
"It is with a thankful heart that I have been appointed to serve on the Priesthood and Family Executive Council. Good men and women of the church throughout history have worked together to build a strong foundation for Christ’s restored Gospel to flourish and give hope to a world that is so often without light. It is now more important than ever that we stand together and follow Heavenly Father’s plan to bring his children home."
Sister Wixom posted on her Facebook page, too.
"Primary children sing 'I Love To See The Temple.' Some children even research family names and index. They love to listen to stories about the temple and their own ancestors. It gives them a sense of belonging and reinforces in their hearts the goal to remain steadfast in the gospel and attend the temple one day. I know that the truths we teach our children are those that remain in their hearts as adults, which is why I consider it a special privilege to now serve on the Temple and Family History Executive Council."